PIONEERS OF BOOGIE WOOGIE (VOLUME 2)
PIANO IMPROVISATIONS IN THE GREAT HONKY-TONK TRADITION
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
(#4 and #8 recorded in Richmond, Indiana, in March, 1929; all others probably Chicago, 1929)
1. La Salle Street Breakdown (3:15) (Charles Avery)
2. Polack Blues (3:18) (Jabo Williams)
3. Fat Mama Blues (3:14) (Jabo Williams)
4. Chimes Blues (3:13) (Charlie Davenport)
5. Eastern Chimes Blues (3:13) (Henry Brown)
6. Deep Morgan Blues (3:08) (Henry Brown)
7. Mississippi Blues (2:42) (Charlie Spand)
8. Atlanta Rag (3:06) (Charlie Davenport)
This is the second Riverside collection of the early recordings of some of the outstanding creators of the authentic, low-down, rocking piano style known as "boogie woogie." This is hard-stomping jazz, just about as tough and barrel-house as it can get. And the five men who are heard here can certainly qualify as experts on the subject - this was the way to play where they came from, and it was a way of playing that they just about invented.
The exact origins of the style are shrouded in the kind of obscurity you encounter so often when trying to trace an aspect of jazz back to its roots. It is clearly a form of the blues, usually played hard and fast and always played rugged, but frequently enough with room for the melancholy and irony of the blues - as is indicated by some of the numbers on this LP, as well as those in the first volume of Pioneers of Boogie Woogie (RLP1009) and in a similar collection by perhaps the greatest master of this style, Jimmy Yancey (RLP1028).
Technically, it involves playing a double-time beat with the left hand ("eight to the bar"); this provides the repeated, rhythmic, "walking" bass against which the right-hand improvisations can pound and leap. Boogie woogie is almost always within the framework of the 12-bars blues, and like the classic blues it may sound like a fairly rigid and stylized form when it's merely defined in words. But in unwritten, spur-of-the-moment improvisations like these, it can have almost infinite range and variety, limited only by the ability and agility of the man at the piano.
The style would seem to have come out of the South and Southwest, where its earliest forms apparently had sprung up, during the first years of this century, in work camps in Texas and Mississippi, and among unremembered wanderers who played in innumerable honky-tonks and barrel houses. It filtered up to the Midwest and, by the late 1920s, although it remained a primitive and crude music, this specific form of blues piano had begun to take on the definite stylistic qualities that identify it to us as "boogie woogie" - and it had picked up that particular name, for the title of Pinetop Smith's celebrated tune.
It was an important part of the early jazz scene in Kansas City, and there were many fine St. Louis players in this vein, but it was most prevalent in and around Chicago. That's where such men as you'll hear on this LP were being recorded with regularity by the midwesterns record companies and were playing in just about every back room or apartment that boasted a battered upright. It has been suggested - and it does sound plausible - that the speed, the vigor, the heavy bass of boogie woogie came about inevitably as the only way in which the piano man could attract attention, or even be heard at all, over the uproar of a tough dance hall or in the crowded apartment of some guy who was throwing a party to raise the rent money...
This music is not to be confused with the fancy-dress version of boogie woogie that had its fling at popularity in the late '30s and early '40s. It's nice to recall that someone knew a good thing when he heard it, and took such men as Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, poured their robust bulks into tuxedos, and made them into big night club attractions. But the craze that followed - when Tin Pan Alley songwriters and big dance bands and life-of-the -party amateurs all tried their imitative hands at it - soon reduced the powerful and compelling stomp to an insipid, cliched, swing motion that had very little in common with this source music.
Charlie "Cow-Cow" Davenport is undoubtedly the best-known of these five piano men. He has achieved recognition partly because he recorded rather frequently, but mostly because they took one of his tunes, during the aforementioned boogie woogie craze, and let his nickname (which according to Cow-Cow himself, derives in some cloudy way from the cow-catchers in front of old locomotives) lead them into a set of inane lyrics about a cowboy "out on the Western plains." Actually, Davenport was from Alabama; after touring the T.O.B.A. Negro vaudeville circuits of the South for some years, he settled in Chicago in about 1920, and exerted a powerful influence on the younger players there. His Chimes Blues (originally issued on Gennett 6838) was widely copied tune; and his Atlanta Rag (Ge 6869), which closes this LP, is fascinating indication of what might be called the omnipresence of boogie woogie in the piano style of a veteran barrel-house player. It begins as an attempt to play straight rag-time, but veers constantly into blues figures, and ends as a thorough integration of the two forms, all (it would seem) without Cow-Cow being able to avoid doing in that way.
Henry Brown and Jabo Williams were probably among the several St. Louis pianists who moved to Chicago. Brown, who was best known as a blues accompanist, displays a deep and rolling left hand that moves somewhat closer to the moody beauty of the standard blues in his two numbers (originally coupled on Paramount 12988); Williams both sings and plays with a relaxed but powerful rumble, and his Fat Mama Blues (Para 13130, coupled with Polack Blues) shows an interesting effect of boogie woogie beat on blues singing, as he 'doubles up' on the usual repetitions of the lyrics. Charlie Spand's selection here was Para 12917; Charles Avery's Deaborn Street Breakdown, on Para 12896, backed Meade Lux Lewis' original version of Honky Tonk Train (which is included on Riverside's first boogie woogie LP).
In all, there's very little known about these men. One can only note that they all made a few records in the late '20s, that they were part of the remarkable and rugged "rent party" piano tradition of their day - and that they were obviously talented performers who fully warrant inclusion in this collection of some of the most exciting piano jazz ever recorded.
Some of this material reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.